Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barra de Navidad

We are now anchored in the lagoon at Barra de Navidad after a good passage from La Cruz.  Doug is very happy because a French baker delivers his wares every morning to the boats anchored in the lagoon.  We may never leave!

Choices, choices!

Updates to come......

Paradise Village and Puerto Vallarta

A week in Paradise passed quickly!

The luscious entrance is indicative of what is inside

We spent our mornings doing boat chores and reading. In the afternoon we’d head off to the lap pool to do a few lengths, then wander over to the Vallarta Yacht Club to soak in their gigantic hot tub, and dipping in their chiller pool, before a great shower.

Lap pool at Paradise Village - one of four pools

Big enough to swim in! Doug nurses a sore shoulder.

Chiller Pool at the Yacht Club

I’ve been cooking aboard most nights and, after dinner, we wander around watching the week-long vacationers enjoying themselves.

Based on the chain, I think these vacationers may be spending more than a week!

One evening we walked along the beach and began to hear the strains of Abba music. As we came closer to a pavilion, we became aware that the songs were from the musical Mama Mia and were being performed in an open air amphitheatre by a Mexican troupe. We slipped into the back row and enjoyed the rest of the production, remembering the movie, but also remembering our great departed friend, Eric Matheson, who loved Abba.

Ka'sala at Paradise Village - the days are warmer - note the sunshade

On another day, we decided to leave Ka’sala in the marina and spend a night in Puerto Vallarta. We left in the morning and caught a 13 peso, air conditioned bus to Marina Vallarta (near the cruise ship docks) to check it out and meet some friends that Meredith had stayed with over Christmas. We were entertained by a fellow who boarded the bus with his guitar and proceeded to belt out a few popular Mexican tunes in a very melodious voice, then pass a hat around for tips.  Very entrepreneurial! (On another bus ride, a fellow boarded and went through the bus trying to sell rosaries - he spoke in Spanish so I couldn't exactly figure out what he was saying, but based on his serious demeanor, I had the terrible feeling he was implying that if we didn't buy one of these charmed objects we might not survive the bus trip!).

A giant statue of Neptune overlooks the Marina Vallarta area

This area is thriving and we saw hundreds of gringos walking about, enjoying the cafes and shops that line the boardwalk.

Okay, there were more than gringos along the boardwalk!

And a few warnings too!

Susan and Gary, who used to cruise aboard a 44 foot sailing vessel, are staying in one of the condominiums for the winter. Through Kim, Meredith’s mother, they have kindly offered to be the receivers of my new Panasonic camera - replacing the one lost last December in Bahia Santa Maria. We were only able to stay a few minutes, but hope to reconnect with them in March when we return to pick up the camera.

We continued into town on one of the 6 peso, bone crushing city buses (they have no shock absorbers and most of the streets are cobblestone!), and got off by Cuale Island.

Sign outlining the Romantica district in Viejo Vallarta

We wandered around the Romantica district, in Viejo Vallarta, looking for a traditional hotel, thinking we might stay at the Belmar. We weren’t impressed with the rooms they had available and continued on to check out the other 7 small, mostly economical, hotels in this district.

Street scene in Viejo Vallarta

Our guidebook (Rough Guide to Mexico) had suggested we ask for balcony rooms and, at the Tradicional Villa Del Mar, we found our room – bright and sunny, overlooking the cobbled and tree lined street with the jungle bound hills as a backdrop.

Our room was on the first floor, second from the left

Very simple, but clean and comfortable

View from the balcony

For the equivalent of about $35.00 we had our own bathroom in this impeccably clean hotel run by very friendly and accommodating Mexican women. (check it out:

In an example of how small the world is, the next morning, while enjoying the sunshine on the balcony, I got to talking to the couple in the room beside us.  It turned out they are fishermen who live in Ford Cove on Hornby Island.  Do you know how many people live in Ford Cove??  What are the chances we would meet them in a little hotel in Viejo Vallarta?

Cobbled entrance

We wandered about looking for a place we might have dinner and found ourselves down by the beach again. Our guide had told us that the Romantica district was noted for its gay community and there was evidence that it was true. We stopped at the World Beer Store for a couple tasty Mexican micro beers. They were made by Minerva - Doug had his first IPA in a long time and I quenched my thirst on an ice cold amber ale.  Memories of home....

World Beer Store - set up like a tasting room

Our Italian hostess serves them up

Doug is happy!

Close up for my sister - can you see the sweat on the glass?

 We really did not want to pay a high price for a tourist dinner, yet were looking for something different. We were having a hard time finding a place until I remembered noticing a little cafĂ© across from our hotel.

Mediterranean Cafe de Reposteria

When we checked it out I was delighted. It was a tiny place – 8 tables – that served Mediterranean fare. Pasta, scampi, leg of lamb, spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, feta and olives were all available. The owner is also a baker, so the dessert tray was something you dream about.  The only thing missing was retsina! Needless to say, we came back, had a wonderful dinner of treats we hadn’t enjoyed since California and enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

After dinner we headed down to the malecon to walk the strip. There were hundreds of people out and the beach side walkway was crammed with entertainers, such as clowns and acrobats, people selling everything you could imagine from food to wares to artwork.

Native acrobats - an incredible show

Food vendors along the malecon
(Michael J. Mayo photo)

Puerto Vallarta malecon strip at night

A daytime view of one of the more outrageous bar/discos on the malecon
(Michael J. Mayo photo)

Along with the crashing of the surf was an overlay of music from the street and the many bars and discos open to the night air. The whole place is vibrant and alive. People of all ages were enjoying themselves – lots of smiles and laughter – it is a happening place. We were satisfied to stroll along and observe – we felt no need to become part of the spectacle. It sure beat the Comox Valley on a Saturday night!

Next morning we retraced our footsteps, this time to stop at the Walmart grocery (amazing), Sam’s Club and a grunt walk to check out the Costco (not so amazing, but has several products we regularly use that we haven’t seen since America). I really didn’t need to buy anything, but I wanted to scout out the wares when it comes time to provision for our off shore passage to Hawaii. (such as tinned roast beef and chicken breast, coffee, flour, yeast and nuts)

Our week was up and it was time to leave. We left Paradise Village in the late morning and had a fantastic sail across the bay back to the La Cruz anchorage. Our plan is to head directly to Barra de Navidad which is approximately 140 miles to the south. The trick is to get around Cabo Correntes (the Cape of Currents, otherwise known as the Cape Horn of Mexico!) when the wind isn’t howling and the waves aren’t too high. In unkind conditions, this Cape has been described as a “washing machine”! No thanks! Local wisdom advises to round the Cape in the middle of the night, when the diurnal winds are at their least, and when there are no weather systems. Once through this area the sailing is once again good as the land falls off to the east. By leaving the anchorage La Cruz in the late evening we figure we can avoid the discomfort of the Cape and arrive in Barra de Navidad after two nights and a day of sailing.

There are several places we could stop along what is called the “Gold Coast” before reaching Barra, but our thinking is to get to our furthest point south, then slowly make our way back north again as the weather permits. The prevailing winds are still from a northerly direction, so we will need to watch our weather carefully so we are not caught bashing into the wind and waves on our way back.

Our most southerly destination – Barra de Navidad! It’s hard to believe we have come so far in such a short period of time only to return home again. Since our last post we have heard of one other couple who will be returning home via Hawaii, but they are leaving a month before us. Maybe we will meet others farther south. You never know!
An interesting juxtiposition - this elderly fisherman used a simple hand net in the estuary behind our boat most evenings.  The pelican behaved like the man's dog and the two of them enjoyed a symbiotic relationship that focused them on the task at hand.  I can't imagine the price wanted for the luxury villa for sale behind him or what he must have thought about those who watched him from the deck chairs.   This is an example of a contrast I'm not entirely comfortable with in Mexico.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Matanchen Bay to La Cruz de Huanacuxtle

We motored out of Matanchen Bay after breakfast in flat seas and no wind. However, as the day progressed, the diurnal winds increased and by lunchtime we had already logged several hours under full sail and a close reach in a SSW wind, gradually increasing our speed from 4 knots to 6. We were heading for Chacala and enjoying the sunshine as we glided along. We arrived there at about 3pm and saw several boats rolling as a good sized north swell bent around the point.


We weren’t keen to stern anchor, so decided to bypass this lovely little beach community and try our luck, instead, at Jaltemba. We continued on for a couple more hours, playing hide and seek with a couple humpback whales, heading into this huge, built-up bay.

The built up bay of Jaltemba

We chose to anchor off Isla de Pena where we were able to tuck up behind and get out of the swell. We liked it there so much we stayed for three days anchored in 7 meters with 30 meters of chain.

View of Isla La Pina from the foredeck of Ka'sala - notice the birds

We were the only boat the whole time we were there. A little beach was off our bow and we watched as panga loads of mostly Mexican tourists, were brought to sunbathe in solitary splendor. Unfortunately the isolated, sandy beach, guarded by effigies of a couple saints, they undoubtedly saw in the advertisements, was tiny and 2 boatloads, let alone 10, overcrowded it.

One afternoon I was cutting Doug’s hair on the foredeck when a panga load of middle aged ladies stood off and watched for a while. It was a little uncomfortable, to say the least, but they were fascinated. As I was finishing up, they came alongside and gave thumbs up to the haircut and ask us all sorts of questions. In our broken Spanish and their little English we worked out they were retired school teachers from outside Mexico City on a beach vacation. They understood we had sailed all the way to Jaltemba from Canada and they were amazed. It was a little like the earthlings meet the aliens! All of us enjoyed a great deal of laughter together as we worked our stories out.

Other boatloads would come to circumnavigate the little isla to see the nesting frigates and pelicans. Several whales spouted and breached close by, so that between 10am and 3pm there was a lot of activity. Except for a couple of early morning kayakers, the rest of the time we were on our own to enjoy spectacular sunsets, watch the birds make their back to the island at the end of the day and the quiet fishermen drop their lobster traps for the night. We were only slightly affected by the diurnal winds and tides and, for the most part, were rocked gently to sleep each night.

Like Orcas, Humpback Whales are individually known by their dorsal fin

Early on the third day we lifted the anchor again and motored for a couple hours to charge our batteries. As before, the winds picked up as the day went on. This time, however, we chose to fly our drifter and for several hours we ran under this giant green, black and red sail. We noticed a boat behind us, who we later discovered was C’est Si Bon, had raised their red and white spinnaker and, between the two of us, we made a colourful passage down this hilly, beach covered coastline.

C'est Si Bon

The whales also seemed to follow us and we periodically saw them rising and falling close by.

As we approached Punta de Mita the wind began to pick up and the swell became very noticeable. We could see the surf crashing on the point and rolling into the reefs where it boomed in huge crescendos of waves. We wanted to give these rocks plenty of room, so continued on under our drifter until we were well clear before dousing it, running up the full Yankee and turning 90 degrees to head into Bandaras Bay on the north side of the Tres Marietas Islands.

Punta de Mita is another one of those surfing destinations.  Four Seasons resort, condos and golf course cover it.

The wind continued to increase and before too long we had a reef in the main and, eventually 2 in the Yankee. We flew on a beam reach at 6.5 knots on a comfortable, yet exhilarating, ride. We had enough wind, so took the opportunity to practice heaving to under full sail. It was the first time I had done it and I found it a strange sensation to be almost completely still in windy and wavy conditions. The sound of the sails and the rigging and Ka’sala’s movement seemed unnatural in these conditions, but we could both see how this configuration could give us relief in continuous rough weather.

We blasted along for an hour or so, then, as the wind died, shook out the reefs until there were none at all and the seas subsided to an elongated roll. We dropped the sails and powered up, arriving at the La Cruz anchorage in the late afternoon. We anchored in 7 meters with 30 meters of chain on an excellent holding sand bottom. We found about 20 cruising boats of every size and description on anchor outside the La Cruz Marina. Among them were Wendilyn and Keetya from Blue Water Cruising Association members from Victoria, as well as Blue Moon with the German shepherd, Luna, aboard. We were joined the next day by Picara and C’est Si Bon who had spent the night at Punta de Mita. Otherwise, everyone else was new to us.
Fleet at anchor at La Cruz

The anchorage, though protected from the worst of the wind and swells, is very rocky and rolly. The diurnal wind picks up during the day and goes from calm with a rolling swell in the morning, to choppy in the afternoon. The wind gets up to 15 – 20 knots and Ka’sala begins to dance on her hook, seeming to want to get away to frolic in the wind. By 7pm the wind has died again, yet the swell picks up. Usually there was a sea breeze to turn us around on our anchor in the night. We were secure, but it’s not a particularly comfortable place to be.
Calm morning at the anchorage

The La Cruz marina allows those of us on the hook to park our dinghies at one of their docks. We took full advantage of this to go into the village to explore and re-provision.
La Cruz marina - looking out to the anchorage

On the way to the dinghy dock - someone has a sense of humour!

Fishermen tend their nets at this clean and modern marina

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is a quaint little Mexican village with many little tiendas and restaurants. Doug was pleased to find a new kind of Mexican beer in one of the Depositos – Victoria – which we shared with friends later in the cockpit.

Jug size made for friends to share!

What we really noticed was how much more expensive everything was compared to San Blas and even Mazatlan. We had arrived on the outskirts of Gringo Land, where a meal in a restaurant cost the same as at home – something our budget could definitely not afford. Luckily we were able to find where the Mexicans shop to buy better quality and priced fruit and vegetables as well as beef and pork. ( It was quite an experience for me to ask for a cut of meat and have the butcher cut it off the carcass hanging beside her counter! This meat turned out to be the best we had yet.)

On Sunday there is a market in the town plaza and we went in expecting to see lots of fresh produce. Instead, we were surprised to find it was a gringo market. About fifty kiosks were set up selling all kinds of arts and crafts made by Mexicans, Indians and gringos alike. There were bakers, chefs, an organic farmer, candy makers and coffee producers. The hundreds of customers were almost exclusively gringos and the prices were what we would find at home in our own markets, though many of the goods were different. We bought a couple croissants, some honey coated almonds, some fresh basil and a bag of organic baby greens with edible flowers. I was totally taken with the colour, the movement of people, the artwork, pottery and Huichol crafts, but my money stayed firmly in my pocket.

Some of the goodies available at this exciting market

After a while I wandered down a side street and found a truck with bales of clothes in the back. A couple of these bales had been opened on tables and a cacophony of Tshirts, blouses, bras, shorts, and baby clothes were strewn about. Several Mexican ladies were pawing through the piles and picking out things they liked. I had burned through several of my Tshirts on board, and was in need of a couple new ones, but did not want to pay a fortune to replace them. This looked like my opportunity and soon I was really into digging through the clothes with the rest of them. After a while I found some items that would do, and even a pair of shorts for Doug. My purchases worked out to about $2.50 a piece – my kind of shopping – making me nostalgic for the Stanley Market in Hong Kong.

Not the clothes bales I went through, but you get the idea

We were happy to reconnect with Trudi and Norbert aboard C’est Si Bon.

Norbert and Trudi

We had first noticed their steel cutter in San Diego and later met them as we checked into Mexico at Ensenada, Islas de Bonitos and other spots along the way. They are very experienced Dutch /Australian cruisers having been aboard their yacht for the last 10 years cruising the Pacific from Australia, up through the South Pacific and the Philippines to Japan, Alaska, BC and finally down the North American coast. They are in Bandaras Bay to prepare for the crossing back to the South Pacific.

We were happy to meet up with them again to compare notes about our respective adventures, and also to learn about their off-shore cruising experiences. We enjoyed drinks and a meal together as well as spending a day exploring Puerto Vallarta.

An interesting museum which contains the history of the Mexican navy and other nautical information

Colourful mural depicting life in Bandaras Bay

Gringo Gulch off Cuile Island in Puerto Vallarta - Elizabeth Taylor had a house near here

Statue of John Huston - considered the founder of modern Puerto Vallarta for the fame and fortune he introduced as the result of his film "Day of the Iguana" with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner

Looking up the river surrounding Cuile Island and flowing past Gringo Gulch

Gorgeous statues such as these line the Puerto Vallarta waterfront malecon

This stained glass panel really caught my eye

Lunch with Trudi and Norbert in the Romantic District

Poor Trudi! I really peppered her with questions about provisioning and comfort on offshore passages, but she willingly and enthusiastically answered all my questions in a positive and no-nonsense fashion that I appreciated. Her situation is a bit different than mine, firstly because she lives aboard her boat full time – she and Norbert do not have a home base – and secondly, C’est Si Bon is a much larger craft – a centre cockpit over 40 feet. Nonetheless, I learned a great deal.

On Valentine’s Day we climbed in our dinghies and headed into the marina to watch a French cruising couple who were financing their sailing adventures by performing acrobatics in their rigging. Yes – you read that right! Delphine Lechifflart and Franck Rabilierto looked to be in their late 30s, with two small children aboard La Loupiote. Their two shows were amazing – the first an amusing look at all that can go wrong when a man and woman sail together – done mime style – and the second, a more romantic ballet performed under spotlights in the dark, meters above their decks.

I can understand how a cruising couple could end up like this!

Which line?

Giving climbing the mast a whole new meaning!

It was really brilliant and they are amazingly talented. We learned that they were heading to Hawaii next and hoped we may get a chance to compare notes with them, but it was not to be. They were departing a few days after the event and expected to be leaving Hawaii for BC before we even got there. We wish them well in their unique and imaginative pursuits. . (for more information check out Lectronic Latitude’s article on them at:

After four nights on the anchor we decided to treat ourselves by staying at Paradise Village in Nuevo Vallarta for a week. This destination resort has a marina attached and offers transient mariners the full use of their facilities when they have space available. For the equivalent of approximately $22.00 we can enjoy 4 swimming pools, (including a lap pool) the beach facilities, showers, hot tubs and entertainment. We can dine in the restaurants and drink in the bars (for gringo prices) and wander around the well manicured gardens. There is even a pair of Bengal tigers – part of a successful, in-captivity breeding program for zoos.

Daisy has a large collection of tennis balls!

The marina slips are very private as they run along the outside of the facility, there is unlimited potable water and power, the nights are quiet and warm and there is plenty to do. Cotton baton living for sure!

Leaving La Cruz